Working as a concierge (or if we want to get fancy, Travel Consultant) has its perks. I’ve been invited to go on tours, personally took the Queen of England to Alcatraz, attended fun industry events, and more*. But best of all, I slowly earn the trust of my guests and other locals, who then tell me the Secrets of San Francisco.
I can’t tell you all of them all, but I can let you know about… The San Francisco CityPass!
(cue dramatic music)
What the heck is a CityPass, and how would I know if it’s worth the money? Having lived in San Francisco for the past 5 years, I’ve seen it from both a local and tourist perspective. I’ve had dozens of friends visit and use the pass. Heck, I’ve even interned for a tourist magazine that worked with the CityPass Co.
Now I’m here to review and tell you all about the San Francisco CityPass, or as they call it – “The best way to see the city by the bay. Are you ready? Let’s check it out!
* One of those might have been a lie, but you’ll have to guess which ;)
San Francisco CityPass: What Does it Include?
The CityPass costs $94 per adult and $69 per child, and comes in a handy little booklet like the one above.
You’re probably wondering, What makes this little booklet so dang special? And what can I use it for? Check out everything that’s included below:
• 7 Day Cable Car and MUNI Passport (Public Transportation pass)
• Admission to the California Academy of Sciences museum
• Blue & Gold Fleet Cruise Adventure around the bay
• Admission to the Exploratorium OR the de Young Museum
• Admission to the SF Aquarium of the Bay OR Monterey Bay Aquarium
Sounds like a lot of activities, right? In the section below I’ll break each one down by what it is, the price, and whether it’s worth it. Let’s take a look!
San Francisco CityPass Activities & Pricing
7 Day Cable Car and MUNI Passport
Price Breakdown: Officially speaking, the cost of a 7-Day MUNI Passport is $42, but let’s see a more realistic price breakdown below…
My Option: To be honest, I would buy the San Francisco City Pass just for the transportation discounts … and maybe throw in a visit to the Exploratorium if I had time. ;)
The price breakdown on the 7-day MUNI Passport is insane! I mentioned that the official cost for the 7 day MUNI (public transportation) Passport is $42, but I’ll explain a realistic scenario below. Let’s pretend that a tourist does not buy the Passport, and instead pays for everything with cash. Note that cable cars are $7 per ride and the bus/metro is $2.50 per ride (90 mins.)
Let’s assume that our tourist will be taking the bus or metro 3 times a day for a week, and the cable car 4 times:
Bus & metro fare: $2.50 x 3 x 7 = $52.5
Cable car fare: $7 x 4= $28
With the CityPass, you can save an average of $42 to $80 just on public transportation!
The reason why I love this pass is that you have unlimited rides, even on the $7-a-ride cable car. You could literally take a cable car multiple times a day, for 7 days straight, and nobody would bat an eye at you.
Trust me, I called them and checked.
Admission to the California Academy of Sciences Museum
Price Breakdown: Tickets are $35/Adult, $30/Student or Youth, and $25 for Children
My Option: Where else can you find 40,000+ live animals, an interactive four-story Rainforest, and an albino alligator named Claude? Only at the California Academy of Sciences!
If you’re heading towards the west part of San Francisco, make it a day at the Golden Gate Park and visit the Cal Academy and de Young museum (see below). I recommend starting from the Aquarium and working your way up towards the exhibits – check out the Earthquake Simulator! When you get tired, pop into the planetarium for a short film about astronomy.
Overall, I think the Cal Academy is a great choice if you’re into museums, natural sciences, or fun exhibits. If you keep scrolling down this post, you might also be interested in checking out the Exploratorium, which is very similar to this museum.
Yeah, you heard me – check out those vieeews!
Blue & Gold Fleet Cruise Adventure
Price Breakdown: $30/Adult and $20/Child ticket
My Option: Most people see San Francisco from the streets, so why not explore the other side by taking a cruise on the bay? You’ll start the 1-hour journey from Blue & Gold’s pier near Fisherman’s Wharf, pass under the Golden Gate Bridge, and sail back around the bay. I would do this sail for a casual day (or after you’ve walked 10 miles the day before) and bring a camera for unique photos of the SF skyline. Try to be the first one on the boat to grab the best seats in front of the boat.
As mentioned in almost every other guidebook about San Francisco, wear layers and bring a sweater – it gets chilly around these parts!
You can play all you want … Just don’t get your head stuck in one of the exhibits ;)
Admission to the Exploratorium
Price Breakdown: $30/Adult and $20/Child
My Option: If you want to know my favorite attraction from the CityPass, you’re looking at it right here: the Exploratorium. If the words “science museum” reminds you of the ones you went to as a kid, think again! Honestly, you could walk in here at 10AM and get kicked out at 5PM without having seen half of the exhibits – it’s that huge. The museum is broken up into six sections and includes exhibits on sight and color, human phenomena, life sciences, and even a tactile dome.
Bonus: if you go to the outdoor gallery, you’ll get a gorgeous view of the bay!
Admission to the de Young Art Museum
Price Breakdown: $15/Adult and FREE for Children (Under 17)
My Option: If you’re visiting Golden Gate Park, the de Young is a perfect place to stop between your visit to the Conservatory of Flowers and Japanese Tea Garden. The museum has classical American and European art, along with rotating modern artists like Keith Haring, Oscar de la Renta, and Frank Stella.
Tip: See that tower thing to the right of the museum? Take the elevator to the 9th floor of the tower, where you’ll get a panoramic view of the park and surrounding neighborhoods.
> Exploratorium vs de Young Museum: Which Attraction to Pick? <
The SF CityPass gives you the option of choosing only one of the options above – will it be the de Young art museum or Exploratorium science museum? To be honest, it’s a tough choice. Both museums are full of amazing exhibits, so the best way to choose is based on your personal preference. Are you artsy and colorful or curious and logical? If you’re somewhere in the middle, you can always visit one museum and buy a ticket to the other one. ;)
Admission to the San Francisco Aquarium of the Bay
Price Breakdown: $25/Adult and $15/Child
My Option: If you don’t want to drive all the way down to Monterey or have the time, then the SF Aquarium of the Bay is for you. It’s the “light” version of the Monterey Bay Aquarium but still has a ton of exhibits and marine creatures. One of my favorites is the 300 feet Underwater Tunnel (see photo above). You can walk through and pretend to be under the sea with all of your favorite fish – including sharks and manta rays!
Admission to the Monterey Bay Aquarium
Price Breakdown: $50/Adult (!) and $30/Child
My Option: Out of all the attractions in San Francisco, this is the only one that’s outside city limits! If you have a car and are doing the Pacific Coast Highway (Highway 1) route, you’re bound to stop by Carmel, Big Sur, and – you guessed it – Monterey! If you have an extra day and want to explore the area, I definitely recommend driving down to the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Some highlights include the 200+ galleries about marine life, a giant “window” to see the fish, and cute otters. My favorite is the Wave Machine, where you can pretend to be under a huge wave.
Also, the Monterey Aquarium is the most expensive attractions on this list. To put it in perspective: you can use the 7-Day MUNI pass, go to one of the museums in SF, and visit the Monterey aquarium all for the price of one CityPass … and have two more activities to spare!
> San Francisco vs Monterey Aquarium: Which Attraction to Pick? <
Again, we’re faced with a tough question from our CityPass San Francisco: we can only pick one of the aquariums! Here are a few questions that will help with your decision…
1. How many days do I have in San Francisco / the Bay Area?
2. Will I rent a car / have transportation to Monterey?
3. Am I going to the Monterey Aquarium just because I have a CityPass discount, or will I be visiting nearby cities?
Overall, I would recommend the Monterey Aquarium over the SF Aquarium of the Bay if you have more than 5 days in San Francisco or have seen everything already; have transportation to/from Monterey (it’s a 2 hour drive by car, one way!); and plan on maximizing your time by visiting nearby cities like Carmel, Big Sur, Santa Cruz, and so on.
The San Francisco CityPass looks like a great deal, but let’s take a look and see how much you could really save…
• 7 Day Cable Car and MUNI Passport – $42
• Admission to the California Academy of Sciences museum – $35
• Blue & Gold Fleet Cruise Adventure around the bay – $30
• Admission to the Exploratorium OR the de Young Museum – $30 (or) $15
• Admission to the SF Aquarium of the Bay OR Monterey Bay Aquarium – $25 (or) $50
If you purchased each of these activities separately, you would end up paying between $147 to $187! The CityPass costs $94/adult, so your net savings would be between $53 to $93.
Stuck on ideas about how to take advantage of your CityPass? Check out some planning inspiration below:
Day 1- Fisherman’s Wharf
Start the day by taking the bus or cable car up to Fisherman’s Wharf and cruise along the bay in a Blue & Gold ferry. Afterwards, try one of San Francisco’s local favorites – Clam Chowder! – and explore Pier 39’s souvenir shops, seafood stalls, and street performers. Finish the day by relaxing at the Aquarium of the Bay and walking through the underwater tunnel before heading back to your hotel.
Day 2- Golden Gate Park
Take the bus or metro over to Lincoln or Judah street, grab a sandwich or parfait, and enjoy breakfast in the park. Then stroll over to the de Young museum to enjoy some classic American art. Don’t forget to take in the views on the 9th floor! You’ll even see your next destination, the California Academy of Sciences, from here ;)
Day 3- Downtown Exploration
For those of us who didn’t want to go to the de Young, no worries – you can use your pass to visit the Exploratorium instead. I would recommend wandering through the Ferry Building, grabbing some coffee, and sitting near Pier 7 to watch the boats go by. Then walk about 2 minutes up north to the Exploratorium and become a
mad scientist in training.
If you’re visiting San Francisco, I definitely recommend looking into the San Francisco CityPass. Many of the activities and attractions are already on most tourists’ list of things to do in San Francisco, and buying this pass makes everything cheaper. Plus, like I mentioned before, the MUNI Passport is a killer deal by itself! You can buy the CityPass at this link, and let me know which attractions/activities you’re most interested in doing!
* Note! This post contains affiliate links – if you buy the CityPass, I will get a small commission at no cost to you. This keeps me going on new adventures and fuels my Clam chowder addiction ;)
Image credit: CityPass pass, 2nd image of CalAcademy, Blue & Gold fleet under GGB, 2nd image of Exploratorium, and SF Aquarium photos credited to CityPass / deYoung credited to WolfmanSF (Wikipedia) / Sea otters credited to Monterey Bay Aquarium